Digital-Desert : Mojave Desert
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Profiles in Mojave Desert History - Explorers and Surveyors

Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives

Joseph Christmas Ives (1828–1868), soldier, botanist, explorer of the Colorado River in 1858.

Ives was born in New York City in 1828 and was a graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1852. As a Lieutenant from 1853 to 1854 he was appointed by the U.S. Army to the Topographical Engineers as assistant to Lt. A.W. Whipple in the Pacific Railroad survey along the 35th parallel.

From 1857 to 1858 Ives commanded an expedition to explore up the Colorado River from its mouth. --

Grand Canyon was the last largely unexplored area of the West in 1857. Often called "The Great Unknown" it was literally a blank space on maps. It was known that the Colorado River made a significant portion of its journey through this area, so the federal government funded an expedition to explore the river and determine its usefulness as a trade route.

Print of a vintage steamboat in front of rugged terrain. Ives' steamboat, the Explorer

Army First Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers would embark on this challenge and become the first European American known to reach the river within Grand Canyon.

Joseph Christmas Ives would navigate up river using a fifty-foot long sternwheel steamboat, the Explorer. His plan was to steam up the Colorado River from the known into the unknown. However, he crashed just below Black Canyon, not yet in Grand Canyon itself, but continued upriver for another thirty miles in a skiff. Continuing on foot, his overland journey took him down into the canyon at Diamond Creek, today part of the Hualapai Indian Reservation.

Artwork of the Grand Canyon's steep, dark cliffs with the river rapids below. Artwork from the Ives expedition was very dark, depicting the canyon as a terrifying place.

In his Report upon the Colorado River of the West; Explored in 1857 and 1858 (Washington: GPO, 1861), Ives admires the canyon’s scenery:

"The extent and magnitude of the system of canyons is astounding. The plateau is cut into shreds by these gigantic chasms, and resembles a vast ruin. Belts of country miles in width have been swept away, leaving only isolated mountains standing in the gap. Fissures so profound that the eye cannot penetrate their depths are separated by walls whose thickness one can almost span, and slender spires that seem to be tottering upon their bases shoot up thousands of feet from the vaults below."

But he could not envision that the scenery alone would bring millions to view the wonder of the canyon. He also writes:

"The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the south, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado river, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed."



Source: NPS Grand Canyon


More information:

Pertinent chapters (chapters 3 - 7) of Ives' official report, "Report upon the Colorado river of West.

Also see:

Beale Expedition
When, under orders from the Secretary of War, Lt. Joseph C. Ives, earlier with the Whipple Expedition, arrived at the mouth of the Colorado River with the ...

Chemehuevi, Mohave & Cahuilla Indians
Whipple and Ives, for the sake of some new and curious acquaintance-for which we shall be indebted to those intelligent and experienced path-finders-with ...

Indians of the Mojave Desert
Tribes of the 35th Parallel. Let us accompany Messrs. Whipple and Ives, for the sake of some new and curious acquaintance-for which we shall be . ...

Whipple Expedition
The Whipple Expedition, a large scientific expedition led by Lt. Amiel Weeks Whipple, Brevet Lt. J. C. Ives, and 2nd Lt. D. S. Stanley, which was the next ...

Military & Pioneer Period - Mohave Indians
The Whipple Expedition, a large scientific expedition led by Lt. Amiel Weeks Whipple, Brevet Lt. J. C. Ives, and 2nd Lt. D. S. Stanley, which was the next ...

Amiel Whipple
In 1858 Lieutenant Ives named a mountain range along the west bank of the Colorado River for Amiel W. Whipple. These mountains lie east to west in what is ...

Lake Mead
In 1855, Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives traveled the lower Colorado River in search of ... Following Ives, John Wesley Powell continued exploration of the upper ...

History of Hoover Dam
River explorers and mappers first came in January, 1858, under the leadership of Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives, who came up the Colorado by steamboat from the ...

Hoover Dam Chronology
Lt. J. C. Ives navigates the Colorado River and, with his steamboat The Explorer , reaches the end of Black Canyon. 1869. Major John Wesley Powell makes the ...

photo of Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives

ecology: wildlife - plants - geography: places - MAPS - roads & trails: route 66 - old west - communities - weather - glossary
ghost towns - gold mines - parks & public lands: wilderness - native culture - history - geology: natural features - comments

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